Film Review: Black Narcissus (1947)

Release Date: April 24th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Written by: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Based on: Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
Music by: Brian Easdale
Cast: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Sabu, Jean Simmons

General Film Distributors, Universal-International, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, the superior of all is the servant of all.” – Mother Dorothea

I’ve heard about Black Narcissus throughout the years, as it was a milestone film in cinematographer Jack Cardiff’s career. He won an Academy Award for this film, as did Art Director Alfred Junge, who was another guy at the top of his game when this was made.

The film is a magnificent piece of moving and living art. Cardiff’s cinematography is absolutely incredible in this film but it goes hand in hand with Junge’s attention to detail, style and the world he helped craft in order for Cardiff to capture real magic. From a visual standpoint, this movie is a prefect example of how two artists, deeply and genuinely on the same page, occupying the same space, can plant a seed that blossoms into a mesmerizing and perfect flower.

Black Narcissus, is hands down, one of the best looking films I have ever seen.

The rest of the film is pretty good but the look of this world that everyone is acting in, overshadows the rest of the picture. Not to say that the acting or the story were bad, they were much better than decent and the subject matter was very interesting but I just couldn’t stop myself from getting lost in the enticing and magnetic allure of the glamorous environment.

The story deals with a group of young Anglican nuns who open up a school and hospital in the Himalayas, close to Darjeeling. They are confronted with an unfamiliar culture and have to deal with the feeling of extreme isolation. This isolation leads to major challenges and tests for the nuns. One nun succumbs to the sexual sensuality she feels for a local British man, which then leads to a severe nervous breakdown.

The highlight of the film from an acting standpoint, at least for me, was seeing Indian actor Sabu in a role where he is older than what I’m familiar with. Growing up, I was a fan of his childhood films Jungle BookElephant BoyArabian Nights and The Thief of Bagdad. All old school classics that my grandma always had in rotation on her television when I was young.

Black Narcissus is a film that fans of art direction and cinematography have to at least see once in their lives. I’m sure it is something I will revisit again, just because the visuals are one of my favorite things about motion pictures. The matte paintings alone are incredible. It is amazing what top craftsman could accomplish, more than half a century before CGI became the norm.

Film Review: Paris, Texas (1984)

Also known as: Motel Chronicles (working title)
Release Date: May 19th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: L. M. Kit Carson, Sam Shepard
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson

Road Movies, Filmproduktion GmbH, Argos Films S.A., 20th Century Fox, 147 Minutes

Review:

“I wanted to see him so bad that I didn’t even dare imagine him anymore.” – Jane Henderson

I haven’t seen much of Wim Wenders work but going into this, I had his film The American Friend on my mind, being that I had just revisited it the night before. This was also partially penned by Sam Shepard and stars underappreciated character actors Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell, as well as Klaus Kinski’s daughter, the very talented and beautiful Nastassja Kinski.

At its core, this is a story about redemption and about owning your problems and doing what needs to be done to set things straight. This film is dark yet it is very sweet. It deals with some serious issues from the characters’ pasts but pulls itself out of that muck, throws itself forward, pulls you through a lot of emotion and sadness but ultimately arrives at a satisfying and mostly happy ending.

This is an extraordinary and uncommon film. It almost works as a romance story in reverse. In fact, I guess this could be called an anti-romance. It shows you that even if two people really love each other but the damage is irreparable, they can still come together, non-romantically, to do what’s right for all parties involved.

As great as the legendary Harry Dean Stanton was, I don’t know if he ever put in a better performance than he did here. He was perfection, a real actor of the highest caliber and most of the time he didn’t have to say anything, his emotion and his words were conveyed on his face. In fact, he spends the first third of the movie completely mute. When he finally does start talking, it’s soft and very short. But once we get to the big scene where he has to finally open up and right his wrongs, he does so in such a genuine and beautiful way that you are drawn into his words and transported into his memories. Stanton’s performance in this movie is one of the best acting performances I have ever seen, period.

I also have to mention Nastassja Kinski’s performance, as she played opposite of Stanton in the film’s most pivotal moment. She held her own and helped to enhance Stanton’s performance by her reaction to his words and her response.

Dean Stockwell did a fine job in the first two-thirds of the film as Stanton’s brother but more in the role of being the eyes and ears of the audience, as he didn’t understand what the heck was going on with his brother and he wanted answers to the mystery of his brother’s four-year disappearance.

The look of this film is incredible and it boasts the cinematography of Wenders’ regular cinematographer, Robby Müller. The films uses that bright, electric, neon green that Müller is synonymous for, especially when used in contrast to dark backgrounds with accents of red and sometimes other colors subtly dropped in. The look here is very similar to Wender’s and Müller’s The American Friend, as well as another 1984 film Müller worked on, which also starred Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man.

Paris, Texas is a really emotional film and I don’t know how anyone could watch it and leave the experience untouched. Very few films have the ability to actually touch the soul and transform the viewer or to give them at least a new perspective on things. This film, at least for me, opened my eyes to some things and really sort of changed how I have viewed some of my own life experiences. Wenders, through the profound performance of Stanton, was able to create something here that speaks directly to the human core. It’s soothing in it’s sadness and it’s loving finale. And ultimately, it drums up hope where there isn’t any.

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Release Date: September 1st, 2017 (Telluride)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Perfect World Pictures, Working Title Films, Focus Features, 125 Minutes

Review:

“You can not reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.” – Winston Churchill

Now that there are nine or so films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, there is more competition and it opens the floor up to more films that may otherwise get snubbed. But on the flip side of that, sometimes there are pictures that work their way onto the ballot that shouldn’t be there. Actually, it’s pretty common now. Darkest Hour is one of those films.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it enough to leave with a positive opinion of the film but if a movie is nominated for Best Picture of the Year, it had better be pretty damn exceptional.

Darkest Hour boasts some incredible acting but to be brutally honest, even great acting can’t save a disjointed and oddly paced film. While I was pulled into Gary Oldman’s Churchill, as he dominated nearly every scene, the film just shifted around like loose marbles in a shoe box. I felt like a cat watching a laser pointer.

While the film has also been nominated for Best Cinematography, I didn’t like it at all. The picture was dark and smudgy. Maybe the projector was on the fritz in my theater but the trailers before the movie all looked normal. This was a film shot with boring colors in dark places with high contrast lighting. While that can be presented well, I felt like I was watching a big television event from a major network in the ’90s and not a major motion picture on the big screen in 2018. The presentation made it feel like a mid-’90s BBC docudrama.

The strength of the film is the performances by the actors, especially Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn, as the King. The two women, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James, also did fine work but were limited in their roles, as Churchill was always the film’s primary focal point. Another strength was the presentation of Churchill, as Oldman’s transformation looked seamless and perfect.

The film only covers the few weeks between Churchill’s rise to the role of Prime Minister to the moment where he decides whether he is going to go to war with the Nazis or negotiate a treaty. We all know how this ends but it’s how he came to his decision that is the gist of the film’s story. While parts of the film drag and should have been whittled down, the last twenty minutes or so were really solid.

Darkest Hour was a good movie but it lacked in a lot of areas that a Picture of the Year nominee shouldn’t. But the Academy is incredibly political and that could very well be the reason why this is getting major accolades.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – Back to Earth (2009)

Original Run: April 10th, 2009 – April 12th, 2009
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Sophie Winkleman

Grant Naylor, UK Gold Services Limited, BBC, Dave, 3 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It took a decade but after the weird eighth season that capped off the original run of the Red Dwarf televisions series, we finally got the promised followup. While a theatrical film was teased for years, it never materialized. Instead, we got this three-part special that aired over Easter weekend in 2009.

Back to Earth was a vast improvement over seasons seven and eight, which left many fans baffled and sad. It also brought Red Dwarf back into people’s minds and allowed for the show to actually return in its normal form which happened in 2012 and we have since had three seasons of the show following this special.

For the most part, this is a pretty good outing for Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten. I wasn’t a fan of the multi-episode experiments they did in season eight, as they really contributed to the slow and drab feeling of that series. Here, the concept works though. But thankfully, this was the last time that they did a multi-part story.

This three parter is called Back to Earth because the Dwarfers actually get back to Earth but it is the Earth of our time. Furthermore, it isn’t the Dwarfers Earth it is literally our Earth. You see, the Red Dwarf crew discover that they are fictional characters made up to entertain us in the real world. They then go on a quest to get their show to continue because they don’t want to die with its cancellation. Of course, there are some twists in the plot and luckily for us, the show did continue beyond this.

This series is also an awesome homage to the sci-fi/neo-noir classic Blade Runner. It has a lot of gags and moments that are recreations of key scenes from the film and they are done beautifully. It added a cool aesthetic to this story.

Also, the story is a throwback to a really popular older episode. I’m not going to say which, as it may spoil some of the twists.

The only really weird thing about this series, is that it didn’t have a live audience or even a laugh track. The lack of canned laughter is actually kind of distracting but you do get used to it, once the Dwarfers leave their normal surroundings and get to modern Earth at the start of the second episode.

The crossover between Craig Charles’ two biggest shows Red Dwarf and Coronation Street was really damn cool, as well.

Ultimately, this isn’t as good as the classic series, as a whole, but as a standalone story, it is one of my favorites. Had it been the final time we saw these guys, as many believed in 2009, it would have been a fine and honorable sendoff.

But I’m pretty happy that we’ve gotten three more seasons after this with more presumably to come.

Documentary Review: Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015)

Release Date: May 16th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna
Written by: Gabriel Clarke
Music by: Jim Copperthwaite
Cast: Steve McQueen (archive footage), Chad McQueen, Neile Adams, Louise Edlind

Content Media, McQueen Racing, Pit Lane Productions, 102 Minutes

Review:

Le Mans is my favorite movie about auto racing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a classic with fantastic action and a true sense of realism unlike anything ever filmed on the subject before it. It feels like a documentary accented by the presence of Steve McQueen.

The story behind the film is more intriguing, however.

This was Steve McQueen’s dream project, as it focused on his biggest love: motorsports. More specifically, it focused on the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which is the biggest annual motorsports event in the world, which pits all the top auto manufacturers against each other with the best drivers in the world, gunning for bragging rights and world supremacy, at least until the following year.

McQueen was at the point in his career where he could be attached to anything and any studio would just write a check. However, due to creative problems, production issues, falling behind and the immense undertaking that this film became, the project turned into a nightmare for all involved. McQueen’s vision was his vision, whether or not the people brought on to help him realize it, understood what they were doing or not.

This documentary also analyzes McQueen’s personal life, its ups and downs and how all that played into his attitude and his handling of creating this dream. Le Mans was an arduous task that had to be finished but McQueen’s personal demons didn’t make it any easier.

In the end, the film got made, it didn’t do so well upon release but has grown to cult status among car and racing aficionados. It’s an amazing film for a lot of reasons and this documentary shows you why.

Plus, it’s always a treat to watch McQueen’s Le Mans footage. This also has a lot of behind the scenes stuff mixed in.

Film Review: Alien (1979)

Release Date: May 25th, 1979
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 117 Minutes, 116 Minutes (2004 Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Ripley, for God’s sake, this is the first time that we’ve encountered a species like this. It has to go back. All sorts of tests have to be made.” – Ash, “Ash, are you kidding? This thing bled acid. Who knows what it’s gonna do when it’s dead.” – Ripley, “I think it’s safe to assume it isn’t a zombie.” – Ash

I saw Alien on the big screen once before. I think it was in 1999 when it was re-released for its twentieth anniversary. Granted, I can’t miss the opportunity to see this or its first sequel when they come back to theaters. Both are perfection and both are very different. While people have debated for decades, which film is better, I still can’t decide. Why can’t they both be the best? I mean, they are perfect compliments to one another because of the different things that each brings to the table, setting them apart narrative wise and tonally.

Where Aliens is a badass action thriller, the original Alien is really a pure horror movie set in space. The Alien formula was actually so effective, that people are still ripping this film off today. Almost every year, there is at least one film dealing with an isolated crew battling a dangerous creature in tight confines, whether it be a spaceship, an underwater facility or some science research base in the middle of nowhere. Alien is still the best of these kind of films, although John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very, very close second.

What makes this film work is how dark and how cold it is. Everything just comes off as bleak and hopeless. The film has incredible cinematography and its really unlike anything that was made before it. A lot of the visual allure, as well as the film’s looming sense of doom, is due to the design work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger. His style is like German Expressionism from the future in that it is dark, disorienting but also very tech-like and beautiful. Giger’s art is very unique and very much his own. Without Giger, I feel like Alien would have been a very different film.

With as iconic as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley has become and as synonymous with the franchise as she is, it is weird seeing her not being the top billed star. That honor goes to Tom Skerritt but Ripley does become the focal point and Weaver gives a great performance, even if she isn’t as incredibly badass as she would become in the next film.

This film benefits from having a pretty amazing cast, though. In addition to Skerritt and Weaver, you’ve got Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Veronica Cartwright. All seven of these people have had pretty impressive careers with multiple notable roles.

The film is also directed by Ridley Scott, who has gone on to resurrect the franchise with new energy since he returned to the series with Prometheus in 2012 and then followed it up with the lackluster but still interesting Alien: Covenant in 2017.

Alien is still a very effective film and even if I have seen it dozens of times, there are certain parts in the movie where I still get chills. The effects hold up really well and still look damn good. And even if the sets and computers look really outdated for a movie set in the future, it still has a certain aesthetic that just works for me.

All things considered, there really isn’t a negative thing I can say about the film. It moves at a nice pace, builds suspense effectively, still feels chilling and has aged magnificently.

 

Film Review: Child’s Play 3 (1991)

Also known as: Chucky 3: El Muñeco Diabólico (Mexico), Chucky 3 (Germany)
Release Date: August 30th, 1991
Directed by: Jack Bender
Written by: Don Mancini
Based on: characters by Don Mancini
Music by: Cory Lerios, John D’Andrea
Cast: Justin Whalin, Perrey Reeves, Jeremy Sylvers, Brad Dourif, Andrew Robinson

Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t fuck with the Chuck.” – Chucky

While there is a very slight variance in overall quality of the original Child’s Play trilogy of films, all three are pretty damn consistent and each has it’s own vibe. Plus, the sequels don’t just feel like rehashes of the original.

The thing that sets this one apart is that Andy is now 16 and enrolled in a military school, drastically changing the setting and opening the plot up for a myriad of new directions.

Chucky is resurrected because what is a Child’s Play movie without Chuck? He tracks down Andy to his military school but not before murdering the crap out of the CEO of the toy company that produces Good Guy Dolls.

However, Chucky meets the young boy Tyler. He realizes that he can tell Tyler his secret and take over his body instead of Andy’s. Although, Chucky still wants to murder Andy for being a total pain in the ass in the first two movies. So what we get here, is teenage Andy in a race against Chucky in an effort to save young Tyler’s soul.

This film gets really dark but the early Chucky movies showcased terror and dread over the humor that would take over the franchise after this film. There is a grisly garbage truck murder, some other really good kills and the big awesome moment where the teenagers playing war games don’t realize that Chucky switched out their paint rounds with real ammunition. We then get a great final encounter with Chucky in a carnival spookhouse.

I just love how dark and brooding this film seems. Sure, the first two films were also quite dark but this one just ups the ante atmospherically and it works. Plus, Brad Dourif just feels more at home in his Chucky role. His one liners are great but they don’t distract from the proceedings.